That’s what he said. Three beers into a tasting at Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint in Downtown Harrisonburg, the Specialty Beer representative announced to a full house that the South American Palo Santo tree was some “serious wood.” And that was what the whole night was about: beer + wood = amazing flavor.
Jack Brown’s has been doing some pretty unique and fun tastings lately under the guidance of Beer Whisperer, Jamie Long. The last one I went to was all about extreme flavors, like Oyster Stout Porterhouse Brew, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen and 13th Century Grut Bier. Their tastings are also well attended by members of JB’s notorious Notch club. Drink and document 100 different beers to receive your black membership shirt. Many have gone the distance, each hundred earning a shirt upgrade: one gentleman just had his 800th.
The notchers were out in full force on November 22nd anticipating another unique line up from Long. In the world of steel tank equipment, this tasting highlighted modern craft brewers who have gone back to the wooden barrel:
- Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale. With the lowest ABV of the night (5%) this was the barrel to start with. And it was probably my favorite of the night, just for that fact it was so drinkable and such a crowd pleaser. Firestone Walker takes their barrels very seriously and they do know all about American oak barrels, also having Firestone Vineyards in the family. They use an extremely rare (only two breweries globally do this) process based on the Burton Union fermentation system. If you are interested in their fermentation system as well as a history of barrel aging, check out this January 2010 article from All About Beer magazine, “Inside the Barrel” (jump to page seven for Firestone’s fermentation system).
- Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard (7.2% ABV). Many of the Notchers declared that they preferred it to the original Arrogant Bastard. Rather than using the American oak barrels, like Firestone, the Stone brewers use American oak chips. The chips are said to distribute oak flavor over a greater surface area than barrels can.
- Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron (12% ABV) is a brown ale aged in a barrel made from the wood of a Palo Santo tree. This tree is a close cousin of the aromatic frankincense and is sometimes used by South American wine makers. Dreamboat Sam Caglione and his staff can explain the process a little better in this two part video (the video is actually how the brewery uses wood overall, but jump to 4 minutes if you want to learn more about this unique tree): Palo Santo Marron Wood Beer (Part 1).
- Schlafly Vintage 2008 Barleywine (10.2% ABV) has spent time in oak barrel and really altered the flavor. I thought it had a milky flavor to it, almost like a white russian cocktail.
- Laughing Dog Dogfather Imperial Stout (11% ABV) is where things start to get a little hazy. This stout from Ponderay, Idaho is aged in a bourbon barrel for 11 months. I have always been a Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel fan, and they are pretty comparable.
- Brew Dog Tokyo Intergalatic Fantastic Oak Aged Stout is brewed with jasmine and cranberries, then dry hopped, and aged with oak chips. It just about knocked me off the bar stool with 18.2% ABV.
Admission was $18 ($15 for Notchers) for the 6 samples and included a complimentary ceramic stein from Schneider Weisen Edel-Wiesse.
For more information on upcoming tastings and events at Jack Brown’s visit their Facebook page.